“We know in the future now what to charge ya,” quipped
Martin McVicar, Combilift co-founder and managing di-
rector, getting a burst of laughs.
It’s funny because grifting customers seems like the
last thing Combilift would do. A Dublin cabbie? Absolutely.
But not these folks.
McVicar attributes the success of Combilift, which now
has an annual revenue of $280 million and has dou-
bled production in the last five years, to doing whatever
it takes to find value for customers, and making them
“It’s listening to our customers and designing a product
around their needs,” McVicar says. “We’d like to keep
open dialogue with our customers and dealers. We have
an open line. We’re trying to build a culture.”
PUTTING THE CUSTOM IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
McVicar began as a design engineer in the 1990s for
Moffet Engineering, which invented the Moffet Mounty lift
truck mounted forklift. The company was bought out in
1997, so McVicar and former boss Robert Moffet partnered
to form Combilift the next year. The company now employs
550 people, making it a critical part of the economy of this
region just south of the Northern Ireland border.
The material handling landscape was populated by
general-use fork lifts with the forks at the front, a design
responsible for 85 deaths a year in the U.S., according to
OSHA. Nearly half were crushed by tipped over vehicles.
The three-wheeled, all-wheel drive Combilift maneuvers
multi-directionally and offered the world an alternative.
“Rather than a regular forklift handling a long load
and airplaning it above other products, machinery, and
people, the Combilift can travel in all four directions
with the load bearing platform as close to the ground
as possible. And traveling in the direction of the length
of the load makes it as safe as possible,” explains Paul
Short, Combilift’s North American president and a design
engineer at the company for 15 years.
An extra “leg” in the front allows for a higher mast as
well, so racks can go higher.
Short says this also allows the Combilift—such as the
C-Series and CB, the most popular for manufacturing
environments—to operate much faster. Combilift says they
operated 35 seconds quicker in studies, mainly because
the conventional vehicle would have to raise its cargo
14 feet in the air at some points to pass over obstacles.
Combilift’s in-house consultancy service, in conjunction with the forklifts, stackers, and heavy movers, can
double customers’ storage capacity by narrowing aisles
and allowing equipment to be placed closer together.
The secret the Irish manufacturer was proud to show
off lies in the chassis, which acts as the counterweight.
Two pieces of 2 to 4-inch thick steel are welded together
to create the heavy body, with no additional counter-
weight needed. They are all customizable for specific
users’ needs, with several of the same model on the
assembly line all having different chassis.
“A lot of times customers don’t know there’s a better
way to do it,” Short says.
That’s where Combilift’s true innovation comes in.
“Give us drawings of your existing facility, and free of
charge we’re willing to put together animation showing what
value our product can bring in
terms of space saving,” McVicar
A Combilift engineer will survey
and measure the site and talk to
the client to understand the ma-
terial flow and manufacturing
space, Short says. Combilift re-
turns to the customer with draw-
ings and 3D animation of both
the existing layout and recom-
The Irish are known for their
craic—a Gaelic word for mirth-
ful, engaging conversation—so
it’s likely this process would be more akin to discussing
a DIY project with your most spatially aware friends than
talking brass tacks and numbers with a salesperson.
And removing the Irish gift of gab and charm from the
equation, just seeing the actual 3D animation of a Com-
bilift swerving around your slimmed down warehouse
should tell you all you need to know.
For some buildings, a Combilift will make much more
sense than others. While warehouse space is always at
a premium, for the niche cold storage market, the cost
can be three times an ambient building. In this case,
wasted empty space is a chilling proposition. The slim
Aisle Master can fit into a 72-inch passage, so a frozen
food distributor can fit more racks and more product,
or operate in a smaller facility.
The customization extends to the trucks themselves,
with options for this application that included heated
cabins and windows.
“SQUEEZING THE AIR OUT”
The benefits of maximizing cold storage should be
apparent to anyone who has ever had to pay an elec-
tric bill after running an air-conditioner all summer.
Optimizing storage has more than an impact on energy
bills, though. It creates a butterfly effect that sends
ripples of efficiency up and down the production line
and throughout the supply chain.
For a typical manufacturer, there’s a finite floor
space at one facility. For an auto manufacturer, this
room would be better utilized for making cars than
storing parts. That’s why the industry seems to prefer
the Aisle Master.
“We’re giving them more production space,” Short
says. “We have customers that have 300,000-ft² storage,
and bringing 10 to 14 feet aisles down to 6 feet can give
them 25% more storage or more in the same space.”
They also benefit when their suppliers can cut down
storage. Aftermarket supplier Aurora Parts & Accessories
Combilift’s multidirectional material handlers carry the load at the side,
allowing faster, easier navigation through the plant or warehouse.
The Straddle Carriers are designed to lift and transport shipping containers, which means they can replace
overhead cranes in certain situations.